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Facebook decision “doesn’t address our fundamental issues”, says IPA

The IPA has expressed its reservations regarding Facebook’s announcement that it is to allow users to switch off political ads on its platform in the US.

Facebook decision “doesn’t address our fundamental issues”, says IPA
Nigel Gwilliam: “In the absence of regulation, political ads can say whatever they like.” Photograph: David Everett Strickler on Unsplash.

Says Nigel Gwilliam, Director of Media Affairs, IPA: "This roll-out is currently US-only in the run up to their Presidential election in November, extending to other countries later which provides an opportunity to observe how it actually plays out.

"In the interim, we have reservations about a programme that is largely predicated on a conscious action to opt-out. Especially in reaction to political ad messages that can effectively say almost anything in the absence of regulation or factchecking.

"How will different cohorts react to this? Does political affiliation and/or education, literacy level, age, gender, etc affect opt-out levels? Could this programme inadvertently favour one side or promote polarisation? Further, could opt-out be weaponised? You could target cohorts affiliated to your opposition intended to aggravate them to inadvertently turn ALL political ads off. This may sound farfetched but unforeseen consequences from online political advertising are not unprecedented.

Ultimately this move still doesn’t address our fundamental issues with online political advertising in relation to both the messages they serve and the methods in which they are served; in the absence of regulation, political ads can say whatever they like, and they can be served in a largely opaque manner.

"We therefore, once again, reiterate our two conjoined calls, for:

  • A publicly accessible, platform-neutral, machine-readable register of all political ads and ad data online. We endorse transparency in the world of political advertising online as the next best thing to regulation.
  • A ban on microtargeted political advertising online. If you don’t limit the granularity of targeting, especially in a world of growing automation/AI, you risk a sheer volume of different messages overwhelming any transparency measure like the proposed register."